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SciTechTalk: Tablet wars heat up
by Jim Algar
Washington DC (UPI) Sep 11, 2012


Microsoft to launch pop-up stores to help tablet sales
San Francisco (AFP) Sept 10, 2012 - Microsoft said Monday it is launching more than 30 pop-up holiday shops in the United States and Canada as it gears up to sell its new Surface tablet computer.

"Microsoft is excited to expand on its existing retail footprint to deliver an assortment of best-in-class products and a premium retail experience to new locations," the US tech giant said in a statement.

"The holiday stores continue to offer customers the opportunity to learn new technology skills and get the most out of their Microsoft-enabled devices. Additional locations and details will be available in the coming weeks."

The company released a list of 32 locations for the shops -- known as pop-ups because they have short or seasonal commercial leases -- including in New York, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto.

The US tech giant on Monday had job listings seeking retail store managers and other personnel. The company offered no specifics on how long these shops would be operational or what they would sell.

The company, which has been in the process of opening permanent retail stores in several US cities, is seeking to break into the competitive market for tablet computers with Surface, set to be released October 26.

Microsoft has said the device would be sold online and through its own retail stores in the US market.

Surface, which will compete against the market-leading iPad and others, features a flip-out rear "kickstand" to prop it up like a picture frame and a cover that, when opened, acts as a keypad so tablets could be switched into "desktop" mode for work tasks.

When Amazon.com unveiled its new family of more powerful tablet computers last week, they painted a large bulls-eye on Apple, its all-powerful iPad and its nearly 60 percent hold on the tablet computer market.

Make no mistake, war has been declared.

The first battlefront will be prices.

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos introduced three versions of high-definition Kindle Fire tablets, costing $199 to $599, including a model that includes 4G capability, providing a connection whenever there is a wireless signal and 32 gigabytes of memory at $499, $230 cheaper than Apple's corresponding 4G iPad.

Amazon followed up by lobbing a data package shell towards Apple, introducing a plan for Kindle Fire tablets that includes 250 megabytes per month for $49.99 a year.

Apple charges $14.99 a month, about $180 a year, for a comparable plan.

Price has been one of Amazon's main weapons since it entered the tablet market last year with the original Kindle Fire for $199.

In Friday's unveiling, Amazon announced the original Fire will still be available but has dropped the price to $159.

While two of Amazon's new tablets sport 8.9-inch screens -- the Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HD 4G -- and are direct competitors for the iPad and its 9.7-inch screen, it is the smaller 7-inch-screen Kindle Fire HD, a high-resolution version of the original Fire, that may feature prominently as Amazon and other tablet makers go toe-to-toe with Apple.

Why? Because it's a pre-emptive strike at an Apple product that doesn't even exist yet -- the rumored but "almost-confirmed" iPad Mini.

Rumors and leaked photos of parts suggest Apple is about to release a 7-inch version of the iPad.

It was first thought it might be introduced at the same time as the upcoming new iPhone, expected Sept. 12, but most analysts now expect Apple will give it its own introduction some time in October.

No coincidence, then, that Amazon says the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD will be available Sept. 14.

It will join a number of 7-inch tablets from manufacturers like Google, Samsung and Dell, who saw the smaller form factor as a way to enter the tablet fray without having to go head-to-head with Apple and its larger iPad.

Steve Jobs, the late Apple leader, famously came out against a smaller iPad in 2010, saying smaller tablets would offer just a fraction of the screen size of a 10-inch tablet and not offer much over the smartphones most tablet buyers already possessed.

"The reason we [won't] make a 7-inch tablet isn't because we don't want to hit [a lower] price point," Jobs said. "It's because we think the screen is too small to express the software. As a software driven company, we think about the software strategies first."

But consumers have seemed happy enough to consider that price point and sales of tablets in the 7-inch range have picked up, leading Apple to reconsider and (almost certainly) commit itself to an iPad mini.

Which makes Amazon's 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, with its high-resolution screen, stereo speakers and front facing camera, a shot across the bow in advance of Apple's expected October iPad Mini volley.

And the war goes on.

.


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